Russia issues CIS-wide arrest warrant for close Navalny ally

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: "Cinema for Peace" founder Jaka Bizilj and Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Navalny's team, hold a news conference in Berlin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has issued an arrest warrant that covers a swath of other former Soviet republics for one of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's closest allies, a Moscow court said on Wednesday.

Leonid Volkov, who oversees Navalny's regional headquarters, has angered the authorities by organising anti-Kremlin protests from his base in Lithuania, demanding the release of Navalny, who was detained last month.

He has urged Russians to gather near their homes for a brief Valentine's Day protest this weekend, shining their mobile phone torches and lighting candles in heart shapes to flood social media.

Moscow's Basmanny Court said investigators had requested Volkov be preventively detained after he was charged with inciting minors to take to the streets.

It said a warrant for his arrest had been issued across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a group of former Soviet republics, including Russia.

The court said Volkov would be held in Russia for two months if and when he is detained or extradited.

Lithuania, where he is based, is not a member of the CIS.

Volkov wrote on his Telegram channel that he would continue working and ignore the arrest warrant.

Volkov left Russia in 2019 after the authorities opened a criminal case into suspected money laundering by Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, which publishes high-impact investigations into what it says is official graft.

Navalny has said he respected Volkov's decision to leave the country, and that working from abroad could ultimately keep Volkov out of reach of Russian law enforcement.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against the jailing of Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, who says he is being persecuted for political reasons.

Navalny was arrested last month after returning to Russia for the first time since he was poisoned last summer in Siberia with what the West says was a military-grade nerve agent. Russia has questioned whether he was really poisoned and denied any involvement in what happened to him.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Anastasia Teterevleva and Anton Zverev; Writing by Alexander Marrow and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)